Lolo responds to media coverage of ASESRO transfer
Gov. Lolo M. Moliga has been forced into issuing a public response over the transfer of the American Samoa Economic Stimulus and Recovery Office (ASESRO) to the Treasury Department following extensive news coverage of the battle between his administration and former ASESRO executive director Pat Galeai.
Lolo maintained that the transfer of ASESRO, which was made by executive order last month, was due to the lack of approved funding for the office. ASESRO was established by Executive Order by then-governor Togiola Tulafono to manage and oversee disbursement of the millions of dollars of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money awarded to the territory since 2009.
Last month Galeai wrote to the governor, who was questioned on the decision to transfer the ASG stimulus office to Treasury Department and lay off ASESRO employees.
Galea'i told Lolo that oversight of federal stimulus money is weakened by transferring this function to the Treasury, as the Treasurer is now responsible for not only overseeing his own $1 million award, he will also be signing all future ARRA disbursements not only for compliance, but also as the drawdown authority. Galea'i pointed out that the US Treasury recently expressed a lack of confidence in the ASG Treasury as a repository and caretaker of federal funds due to a long history of unacceptable audit reports.
(See Samoa News story on Feb. 4 for more details of Galeai’s Jan. 23 letter to Lolo.)
In a press statement released by the Governor’s Office around 3:30p.m. this past Friday in response to recent news coverage surrounding the closing of ASESRO, Lolo pointed out that as a former House member and senator, he has great respect for the Legislature, which provides checks and balances in government.
And when the Fono failed to approve the former administration’s budget submission for ASESRO, funding for its continued operations came to an end, said Lolo, in the media statement, which is dated Feb. 6.
“This administration does not intend to violate the Anti-Deficiency Act by paying for an office for which no funds have been appropriated,” he said and pointed out that the transfer of the ASESRO functions to Treasury was a case of putting the activity where he felt it belonged to begin with.
He says Treasury has the resources and skills appropriate to carry out the ASESRO functions.
“I am not going to further dignify the former ASESRO director’s comments with a direct reply,” he said. “I have every confidence my administration will manage this matter in an appropriate fashion.” The governor’s legal counsel, Steve Watson is quoted in the media statement, saying that the administration was looking into complaints made by Galeai in his Jan. 23 letter to the governor. Watson noted that the contents of the letter had been widely reported by local media, including Samoa News.
“This is essentially a personnel matter involving a career service employee who is no longer enjoying certain benefits arising out of his former role, one that through no fault of this administration is no longer in the budget,” said Watson, who is referring to Galeai, as the career service employee.
“Personnel matters should be addressed in the proper form under procedures adopted by the Department of Human Resources, not in the news media,” he added.
Also commenting on the ASESRO issue is ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ Pili, who pointed out that all ASESRO assets had been inventoried and accounted for. However, he claimed that some assets had “gone missing, including five laptop computers and a handful of Apple iPads.”
“Although it took some time, we have also accounted for two ASESRO vehicles that for some reason had been licensed with private – non government - plates,” he further claimed in the media statement. As for ASESRO computers recovered by Treasury, Pili said they have been “sequestered and there was no intention to erase any hard drives.” This contrary to earlier statements attributed to Pili.
Former ASESRO grants coordinator Peter James in a Feb. 1 letter raised concerns with Pili over confiscation of ASESRO computers by Treasury Department IT personnel, who told ASESRO employees that they were instructed by Falema'o to take all ASESRO computers and have their hard drives wiped.
James’ major concern is the “potential destruction of evidence in an on-going federal investigation” conducted by the U.S. Treasury's Office of Inspector General.
(See details of James letter in the Feb. 4 edition of Samoa News.)
In the news statement from the Governor’s Office, Pili said Lolo “has pledged accountability and transparency in this administration and that starts right now.”